Improve your physical and mental health by getting out and taking part in National Walking Month this May.
It’s hard to believe we need a National Month to promote the default way we move our bodies around, but many of us now walk far less than previous generations did. Yet walking can reduce your risk of disease, improve your physical and mental health, help the environment and improve your social life, too.
The Health Benefits
Walking as exercise shouldn’t be underrated. Regular walking is proven to reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, obesity and some cancers, and helps maintain musculoskeletal health. On average, walking 10,000 steps burns 400kcal a day. Walking can also lift your mood and reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Countryside walks also offer nature, tranquillity and fresh air.
While our skin and eyes do need protection from unhealthy UV exposure, some UV light is essential for good health. The UV light we absorb while walking can alleviate depression, help to regulate our body clock and stimulate Vitamin D production. Vitamin D boosts immunity, aids blood cell formation and helps us absorb calcium and phosphorous, necessary for healthy bones and teeth. The World Health Organisation says 5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure of hands, face and arms two to three times a week during summer is enough to keep vitamin D levels high.
Other Benefits of Walking
One of the best things about walking is that you don’t need any special equipment. Walking can be done anytime, anywhere; as part of an everyday journey to school, work or activities, or a special trip. You’re not obviously ‘exercising’, which may reduce any self-consciousness. Walking is good for being social and improving relationships. You can walk with a family member or friend, allowing you quality time together. You may meet other people while walking or choose to join a walking group or health walk.
As well as being good for your own wellbeing, walking also has a positive impact on the environment. Every time we walk to work, school, shops or other activities instead of using transport, we reduce pollution and congestion, helping the environment and improving everyone’s health and safety – both now and in the future. It’s also free! Simple, level walks require no special clothes or equipment so it’s free exercise that can reduce travel costs, too.
Walking Dos and Don’ts
DO wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothes and footwear. Any comfy footwear and your usual clothes are fine for walking around streets or parks, but you’ll need proper walking boots if walking in rural or hilly areas and waterproofs for bad weather. In warmer weather, remember a sun hat and sunglasses – your eyes can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays just as your skin can. Apply sun cream before and during your walk.
DO be prepared and safe. Ensure you take a drink and a snack, especially on hot days and long or more rural walks. Know where you’re going and how long it will take (and consider telling someone). Know what weather to expect and don’t play music too loudly – be aware of what’s happening around you.
DON’T ignore pain from footwear. Head back home as blisters can quickly become agonising.
DON’T ignore weather warnings or advice from walking guides, whether written or human, and leave long or challenging hikes until you’re fitter and more experienced.
For more information on walking and for thousands of free downloadable walks, visit www.walkingindevon.co.uk